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Thursday 26 September 2013

Fitter Fans making their mark at Crystal Palace

Palace Foundation's healthy lifestyle programme is proving to be big success

John Harris (back row, third from left) has praised the work of the Fitter Fans programme

Crystal Palace Foundation's successful Fitter Fans programme has been hailed as 'life-changing' by one of the participants that has come through the scheme whch is designed to get supporters into shape.

The programme began three years ago and targets males over 40-years-old who want to lose weight and lead a more active lifestyle. The free 10-week course includes fitness sessions with football drills and circuits as well as lessons on subjects such as calories, portion sizes and salt and alcohol intake.

When the 10 weeks is up, participants then have the opportunity to continue their fitness programme and maintain the friendships they have made with a weekly five-a-side session near the club’s training ground.

"I don't think anyone really thought it was going to take off the way that it has"
Rob Perrett

The results have been impressive, with 211 participants coming through the scheme since 2010, and Fitter Fans has proved to be such a hit that last year, Crystal Palace Foundation expanded the scheme to include men aged 30 and over.

"It's one of the best things I have ever done," Fitter Fans participant John Harris told "I had a big beer belly, I was overweight and I just couldn't shed it. I knew someone that went to it and he lost so much weight I thought maybe there is something in this so I signed up.

"I am approaching 50 and to think that I would still be playing football once a week still, it's quite laughable really but I feel so much healthier and fitter doing it all. I have lost 2 1/2 stone. It's been an amazing thing and it’s definitely been life changing.

"We are all Palace fans and there's a good camaraderie between us. There's one guy who comes down who is in his 70s, it has given him a new lease of life."

The programme came about following a meeting with Croydon NHS, who highlighted that the male over 40 group was one they were struggling to reach in terms of health and diet awareness.

"It's been a fantastic success and we are really pleased with how it is all going," said Rob Perrett, Crystal Palace Foundation’s Football & Sports Development Officer. "It's one of our most successful programmes.

"It's all down to the participants. We give them the tools and the information but they act upon it. If they didn't buy into it, it wouldn't be the success that it is today.

"When we sat down with Croydon NHS, they were saying if we can get between five and 10 on your first course we will be really pleased so I don't think anyone really thought it was going to take off the way that it has.

"It makes you feel more part of the club"
John Harris

"We get emails through saying 'I weigh less than I did when I was 19 years old and I am so much happier, I get to do more stuff with the family now'. It's quite touching and to have had an effect on so many people is brilliant."

The course may last 10 weeks but for the majority of participants, the engagement with the scheme lasts much longer with around 140 participants still involved with the programme.

As well as the five-a-side sessions, the participants continue to weigh themselves so they can monitor their progress while at the end of the season they play a match on the Selhurst Park pitch as a reward for their hard work.

And not only are the fans getting healthier but they are also forging close friendships, with a group visiting the war graves in France earlier this year.

"There are so many different schemes that Premier League clubs are running behind the scenes," added Harris. "There are not many that actually do the actual older fans and it makes you feel more part of the club, it brings you in closer to it all.

"I don't think the clubs get the credit they deserve, there is a lot that is given back."

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Key Points

  • Crystal Palace's Fitter Fans programme praised for turning lives around
  • 211 participants have come through healthy lifestyle scheme in three years
  • John Harris describes how the scheme has made an impact on him